Discussing diversity

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

Day two of the #MindThePRGap2021 conference organised by PR Academy and University of Greenwich heard four perspectives on the broad topic of diversity. It revealed rich seams of complexity and reminded us to avoid simple labels and categories.

I’ve fallen into the trap with the alliterative title to this piece, as one speaker, Sudha Singh, was keen to jettison talk of ‘diversity’, preferring ‘equity and inclusion’. (Any errors and misunderstandings are mine, not those of the speakers).

Keynote speaker Dr Jennifer Vardeman acknowledged that discusion of identity is complicated and necessarily messy, but welcomed the discussion which would not have been possible previously.

So, let’s start with the concept covered in her keynote address: intersectionality. The point is that we all have multiple identities, so how can you know if your race or gender or sexuality has held you back from succeeding when it might have been your socio-economic background or your disability. So rather than focusing on these as individual issues, we need to look at them all.

Sudha Singh agreed that the lens of intersectionality is useful.

And, as another speaker Sarah Duggan commented, awareness is not enough.

Alexander Clelland, a trained social worker who had previously worked in mental hospitals spoke openly about his mental health challenges before presenting a plan for action in this area.

The conference promised action, not just words, and Jen Vardeman reflected on how we can even plan communication when we can no longer assume that our audiences are homogeneous.

So let’s look at some of the key concepts in turn, starting with intersectionality. We need to recognise that people are not all alike and need to challenge our biases when preparing campaigns.

Jen Varderman spoke of the ‘whiteness’ of the dominant models and theories of public relations and of the impossibility of digital intersectionality.

There are many challenges (not least that it’s so hard to quantify intersectionality), but she presented a clear and simple plan of action.

Sarah Duggan spoke from experience of neurdiversity. (Please note I tagged the wrong Sarah Duggan here).

Yet, she spoke about the additional challenges she faces.

She even noted the problems she faces from other neurodiverse people.

So, should we resist labels, or are they a necessary way to assess the diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplaces?

Having noted that communication professionals are notoriously bad at communicating with each other about problems at work, he identified the problem with mental health that’s hard-wired into working in comms.

He also proposed a mental health action plan for public relations teams.

The final point received murmurs of approval from the co-chair and attendees – to make wellbeing a discussion topic in all management meetings.

The final word goes to Sudha Singh of The Purpose Room and a member of the PRCA’s Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council and her plea to focus on equity and inclusion over diversity.

It’s clear we all need to learn more and listen more (advice is welcome). It’s also clear that a more complex and problematic landscape in which communicators must operate is an opportunity as well as a problem.

Intersectionality may be the twenty-first century version of that twentieth century writer E. M. Forster’s injunction ‘only connect‘.